The dangers of ignoring the threat from the far-right
Categories: Latest News
Monday March 04 2019
The far-right is mobilizing in the UK, and society looks set to suffer so long as politicians stay wilfully oblivious to the danger it poses.
A suspected right-wing terrorist was recently arrested, serving as an apt reminder of the ongoing threat emanating from people who hold these beliefs. The growing prominence of far-right rhetoric in mainstream political discourse, its propagation online, and the lack of effective action taken to combat the growth of far-right groups in society only adds to the threat of far-right attacks.
According to the Global Terrorism Index the UK suffered 12 far-right attacks in 2017. Furthermore, the number of people imprisoned in relation to far-right activity has increased nearly five times since June 2016 – tripling in a year alone. Furthermore, despite the Government’s Prevent strategy being inherently flawed, the number of far-right referrals it has picked up has jumped by 36%, demonstrating that the Government is acknowledging the need to take the threat of the far-right more seriously. This worrying trend demonstrates that unless there is effective intervention on a policy level, the numbers of far-right attacks and perpetrators look set to increase.
In terms of far-right rhetoric, an increasing number of tropes which were initially confined and condemned to extremist circles are now gaining mainstream popularity and being repeated by politicians and media outlets alike. Much of the rhetoric targets migrants and minority communities – particularly Muslims – who are seen as threats to UK society, and therefore worthy of different treatment. The leader of UKIP Gerard Batten, for example, called Islam a “death cult” and advocated for a repeal of equalities laws.
The danger of having such rhetoric endorsed and echoed by influential mainstream politicians is that it legitimises action against minority communities in the eyes of hate perpetrators – or, at the very least, emboldens them in their commission. For example, if an individual with authority and influence in society espouses rhetoric degrading or insulting Muslims it can make some of those who subscribe to a violent far-right ideology feel as if actions against Muslims are warranted. As evidence of this, a former senior police officer described how Islamophobic attacks would increase after “politicians would make pronouncements about the Muslim community”. What made the link even clearer was the fact that many of the perpetrators would even use similar language to the politicians.
A report found that the majority of far-right attacks were perpetrated by “lone actors with far-right, white nationalist or anti-Muslim beliefs”, such as Darren Osborne who killed Muslim worshippers in Finsbury Park in June 2017. Osborne was said to have been radicalized rapidly by far-right online material, which demonstrates that far-right propaganda can indeed lead to attacks against minority communities. What this suggests is that policy makers need to put more pressure on social media service providers to regulate the far-right content hosted on their sites.
Despite the above-mentioned overrepresentation of lone actors in statistics of far-right attacks, the threat also emanates from more established and organized groups, such as the now-banned National Action. This group aimed (in the words of the Prosecution in a case against two members) to “stir up a violent race war against ethnic minorities and others it perceived as race traitors”.
This ideology even extended to the sickening support of the murder of MP Jo Cox in June 2016, showing the dangers of letting such ideas and campaigns go relatively unchallenged. Nevertheless, while National Action has been banned, there are several other similar groups with very similar ideological underpinnings who are still very much active. Policy makers need to ensure that any groups which disseminate or harbour similar rhetoric to the type National Action espouse (or are otherwise similar), are never afforded legitimacy or credibility.
Combating the growth of such dangerous far-right activity requires consultation with the individuals and communities most impacted by it. Those on the receiving end of violent far-right activity can unearth its many different forms through relaying their experiences, and help policy makers formulate a holistic plan to tackle it. Also, bringing together organisations who have conducted bespoke studies around the impact of the far-right activity on their respective communities can help build a database of research to help policy makers come up with effective responses.
Consulting with representatives of the Muslim community in particular can shed light on some of the dangerous narratives being disseminated across social media, as they will be able to demonstrate what the impact is on the community. This will not only help formulate an effective counter-narrative, but also point out the gaps social media service providers have so far been overlooking in their attempts to root out dangerous far-right activity. Additionally, involving Muslim organisations which work with victims of far-right terror can help formulate ways to identify which individuals and groups would be considered dangerous and extreme.
Ultimately, the best way to combat the rise of far-right terror is to empower the communities they want to exclude, and ultimately make society a more cohesive and resilient one. Identifying and stopping the propagation of dangerous ideas online and amongst groups which ultimately led to catastrophic consequences can only be done through a thorough consultation with communities.